Medical Tests, Resilience & Mental Health

Strategies for Pain Management During Procedures

Procedures can be overwhelming for a variety of reasons, one of which may be the knowledge that you will experience discomfort and even pain. But what is pain?  

Pain serves an important function. It is your body’s way of letting you know that something is not right. There are two types of pain: acute and chronic pain. Procedural pain is acute pain, meaning it’s caused by something specific and typically is short-term. But even short-term pain can be, well, painful!  

There are many strategies you can use to try and manage pain associated with procedures. Some target your thoughts around the procedure while some target your body itself. But remember, the mind and the body are always communicating with one another, so if you work to help the one you are also working to help the other! 

Procedural Pain Management Strategies 

Know what is going to happen 

Being well-informed about an upcoming procedure can help to reduce things like nervousness, fear, uncertainty, and worry – things that can make the pain worse. Having certainty about what is going to happen can be a very helpful strategy. So, don’t hesitate to ask questions! 

Practice evaluating your thoughts 

Oftentimes, people become caught in a tricky cycle where they catastrophize something that may cause them pain (e.g., “I won’t be able to handle this procedure!”, “It will be the worst pain!”). This can lead to avoidance behaviors (not thinking about the procedure, not preparing for the procedure) that can increase experienced pain. 

One way to stop this slippery slope is to evaluate your thoughts as if you were a lawyer examining evidence. Try asking yourself some of the following questions when you sense yourself starting to catastrophize: 

  • What is the worst thing that can happen? 
  • What is the likelihood of that outcome? 
  • Even if the worst happens, will I be able to handle it? 
  • Have I handled worse things before? 


Some people may think that “distraction techniques” are only for kids. But distraction serves to reduce arousal, which can help to reduce or eliminate pain during procedures. Some common distraction techniques include: 

  • Listen to music or sing your favorite song in your head 
  • Give a part of your body a massage (i.e., use one hand to massage the other) 
  • Draw your attention to something specific in the room – take time to notice all the features of that item 
  • If available, use your phone for videos/apps 


Similarly, to distraction, breathwork can also reduce arousal during a procedure, which can (again) help to reduce or eliminate pain. Try one of the following: 

  • Box Breathing: breathe in slowly for 4 seconds. Hold your breath at the top for 4 seconds. Slowly exhale for 4 seconds. Hold your breath at the bottom for 4 seconds. Repeat this box breathing as many times as you wish. 
  • Diaphragmatic Breathing: place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach. As you breathe in and out, focus on the hand on your stomach. Moving your breath from shallow in your chest to deep in your stomach can help activate the relaxation response in your body. Try to move the hand on your stomach up and down with your breath. Imagine breath filling up your stomach as if it was a balloon, then gently deflating.  


Visualization helps refocus your attention off of what is happening, which can help you ground yourself. And all you need is your imagination! To start, you’ll take a deep breath and, if it is available to you, close your eyes.  

Next, imagine a place that feels relaxing to you. It may be a place you’ve been to before or a place you would like to go. Use all of your senses to explore this place.  

  • What are you seeing? 
  • What are you hearing? 
  • Can you smell anything? 
  • Can you taste or touch anything around you? 

Coping Statements 

Coping statements are easy, simple phrases that you say to yourself during, before, or after a procedure. They can help ground you and help you tolerate pain. Some example statements may be “this too shall pass” or “I have been able to make it through worse.”  

What is important is that your coping statements is specific to what you need to hear! That makes it most helpful for you.  

Medication Management 

Some procedures are well-suited to medication management for pain. If you have questions about this, consult with a prescribing provider or a member of your Care Team! 

Final Thoughts 

Try and pick a strategy that you think will work best for you! And don’t be afraid to evaluate, reflect, and perfect your choice. Don’t be afraid to try something different!